A friend recently posted on her Facebook page:
“Pandemic teenager (PT) approaching Passover: UGH. I HATE Passover (eye roll).
Me: It’s my favorite holiday. And this year will *really* connect as we come out of the narrow places back into the world… (blah blah blah)
PT: I’m over it. EVERY Jewish holiday this year was connected to the pandemic! Enough!!”
Instantly, I resonated with this post, but after a moment I wasn’t sure if I was identifying with the teenage son or my friend. Like my friend, I have found it helpful to make sense of our reality the last 12 months by seeing it through the lens of Judaism. Every perpetual unwanted adaptation I have made this year has been a little easier to accept when its purpose feels meaningful. When I connect the big feelings of living through the pandemic to aspects of the foundational narratives of my Jewishness, or to other historical events, or to the values I believe Judaism commands me to live my life by, it infuses every frustrating moment, every moment of loss and grief with humility and it brings new appreciation to the ancient text or ritual and modernizes them in a more personal way.
Oh, but I am also very much the teenage son. Enough! I’ve had enough, enough, enough, enough! Can’t Chanukah and Purim and Passover, not to mention just plain old Sunday and Monday and Tuesday, just be themselves again? When will we just be able to be? To be ourselves? To be more carefree? To just celebrate and eat and drink without all this heaviness and extra meaning?
When we approached our first Pandemic Passover last year, surely we all felt it would be a one time thing. Surely when we said to ourselves Next year in Jerusalem, we meant next year together, next year in person! And yet, here we find ourselves, perhaps slightly more together depending on our access to vaccines, but it is certainly not what it was before nor is it probably what we had imagined, and so we continue to work on our acceptance and our adaptation.
The tradition teaches that when we retell the story of Passover on seder night we are to begin with avdut and end in herut. We begin in slavery, oppression, narrow places and by the end of the evening we are in freedom, liberation, wide open spaces. This year I feel like I’m neither here nor there, I feel like I’m in a fog somewhere in between. As if my feet are slowly prodding through the mud of the dry land that emerged when the sea was split and I can’t see clearly what I’m leaving behind or where I’m going. I have so many questions (which of course is also central to the Passover seder). It is the asking of questions that allows us to begin the retelling of the Exodus. And while I do have questions about what the future holds, so many of my questions right now are actually about what life was like before, because it seems so foggy and far away.
Ellen Cushing wrote recently in the Atlantic:
“What did I used to … do on weekends? I asked my boyfriend, like a soap-opera amnesiac. He couldn’t really remember either. Since then, I can’t stop noticing all the things I’m forgetting…I’ve started keeping a list of questions, remnants of a past life that I now need a beat or two to remember, if I can remember at all: What time do parties end? How tall is my boss? What does a bar smell like? Are babies heavy? Does my dentist have a mustache? On what street was the good sandwich place near work, the one that toasted its bread? How much does a movie popcorn cost? What do people talk about when they don’t have a global disaster to talk about all the time? You have to wear high heels the whole night? It’s more baffling than distressing, most of the time.”
Let us begin the retelling together. And next year more together.
Here are some helpful resources for our Second Pandemic Passover:
Approaching our Second COVID Seder: Ritual, art, poetry
Readings and Conversation Starters: With insights from Hadar faculty and activities for children and families, Hadar’s 5781 Pesah Reader will be your guide to finding new meanings and messages in this upcoming holiday.
Need help leading? Ultimate Virtual Passover Seder
Need ideas for things to do with your children? PJLibrary Passover Resources